Under the Influence of a Controlled Substance in Los Angeles

In Los Angeles and throughout California, it is a misdemeanor to use or be under the influence of drugs or, as its called under the law, “a controlled substance.”  This law is often enforced in DUI cases where drug use is suspected, drug possession cases, and any other case in which the police believe someone is under the influence of illegal drugs.

To be guilty of being under the influence of a controlled substance under California Health & Safety Code Section 11550, the prosecution must prove:

  • A person willfully used a controlled substance, OR;
  • A person was willfully under the influence of a controlled substance.

What is a controlled substance?

A controlled substance or narcotic is basically any drug found within a certain list of banned substances. The list of banned substances includes a wide range of drugs including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, ketamine, and ecstasy, and, opium based drugs, stimulants, and depressants. The most common drugs would include methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, pcp, and other various prescription medications. For the purposes of this law, marijuana is not considered a controlled substance.

What about prescribed medication?

If a drug is used under the direction and prescription of a licensed physician, you have a complete defense to this charge. It is important that the drug was used in the manner it was prescribed (e.g. you take no more than you were prescribed). People charged with being under the influence of a controlled substance are often accused of being under the influence of opiates such as Vicodin and Oxycontin; depressants such as Xanax and Ativan; and stimulants such as  Ritalin and Adderall.

How does the prosecution prove that someone was under the influence of a controlled substance?

The prosecutors will rely heavily on the testimony of a police Drug Recognition Evaluator (“DRE”).  The DRE is a law enforcement official who will claim to have specialized training in recognizing whether or not someone is under the influence of a controlled substance.  If the arresting officer suspects that you were under the influence, he or she will call in the DRE who will conduct an “interview.”  This interview will generally consist of the DRE asking questions about drug use, checking your pulse, your eyes (for pupil size), injection marks on your body, and other characteristics that they believe show drug use.  Of course, the DRE’s findings can be challenged by an experienced drug defense attorney. Los Angeles police and the California Highway Patrol almost always employ DREs in drug cases, especially in DUI cases where drug use is suspected rather alcohol.

Additionally, if you are accused of possessing a controlled substance, this may be used as circumstantial evidence that you were also under the influence.  Of course, just because you are in possession of a drug, it does not mean that you are using it or under the influence at the time you are arrested.

Under this law, no actual impairment or other misconduct is necessary to be guilty, the prosecution must only prove that you were under the influence of a controlled substance “by any detectable manner.”  It is not even necessary to prove the controlled substance affected you either physically or mentally. The prosecution can allege a violation just by the mere use of the substance. However, it is still necessary that the use be “willful.” Therefore, if you are slipped a drug or are forced to take a drug you cannot be found guilty of being under the influence of a controlled substance.

The prosecution must also prove “current use” of the banned drug.  Usually this means the use or influence was during or immediately before an arrest. This is determined on a case by case basis and what constitutes “immediately before an arrest” is a factual issue that a qualified attorney can discuss with you.

The penalty for being under the influence of a controlled substance is a misdemeanor. It is punishable by at least 90 days, and up to one year, in a county jail. If convicted, you could be be placed under probation for up to five years, be required to take drug counseling, and face fines. The penalty becomes more severe when a person has multiple offenses or is handling a firearm while under the influence.  However, you may be eligible for an informal drug diversion program or a deferred entry of judgment. This is why it is important to contact a qualified Los Angeles criminal defense lawyer to discuss your case.

If you are charged with being under the influence of a controlled substance or any other drug crime, you may contact The Law Offices of Jerod Gunsberg anytime at 310-210-0744 for a free consultation about your case.